It's finally happened! On Friday afternoon, 14 March, Megawati announced that she is supporting Joko Widodo, universally known as 'Jokowi', the governor of Jakarta, as candidate for Indonesia's presidency.
No doubt the race will heat up but on the face of it, it's all over, red rover – Jokowi is so popular that it now seems very likely he will be sworn in as the seventh president of the Republic of Indonesia on 20 October.
Everybody has been waiting for Megawati to give the word. For months, it has seemed obvious that Megawati, who is Chair of the PDI-P (Indonesian Democratic Party—Struggle), should nominate Jokowi as the presidential candidate for the party. Jokowi has carefully courted Megawati, there is strong support within the PDI-P for Jokowi, and he is streets ahead in the polls. Why the delay?
The delay, and the mounting tension, has been caused by the simple fact that Megawati will not be hurried. She is, after all, a former president of Indonesia (2001-2004), the respected Chair of a major and long-established political party, and daughter of Indonesia's first president, Sukarno. Her very name, Sukarnoputri, means 'Sukarno's princess.' She has made it very clear in recent weeks that she will make an announcement at a time of her own choosing, and that in the meantime, everybody can just wait!
Although Megawati's announcement has been anticipated for weeks, Jokowi's formal nomination is nevertheless a dramatic game-changer on the Indonesian political scene. The 'will-he, won't-he' guessing game has ended, and suddenly the political picture is much clearer. There are numerous implications.
First, power will now ebb away at an increasing rate from Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration. In practical terms, the ten-year period of the SBY presidency (2004-2014) is rapidly coming to the end. Now that Jokowi looks likely to be the next president, the SBY Administration will begin shifting into a de facto caretaker mode. For thousands of officials at all levels across Indonesia, the policy consideration guiding them from now on will not be so much the question of what SBY and his ministers want as what Jokowi's priorities will be.
Just one minor example concerns the uncertainty surrounding the return of the Indonesian Ambassador Nadjib Riphat Kesoema to Canberra.
Ambassador Nadjib was withdrawn by President SBY in November 2013 following the row over Australian intelligence operations in Indonesia. There is no sign yet of when the ambassador will be reassigned to Canberra. Now that the presidential race in Indonesia is on in earnest, any decision to send Ambassador Nadjib back to Australia will need to be considered against any sensitive political implications at the Indonesian end.
Second, it now seems likely that the political map of Indonesia will be transformed by the end of this year.
For the past ten years, Megawati's PDI-P has served in the Indonesian parliament as the leader of an opposition group which has often challenged the policies of the SBY Administration. Megawati's determination to oppose SBY has been sharpened by the fact that she has never forgiven SBY for defecting from her government when she was president. She was caught unawares when he resigned as a senior minister in 2004 to run against her for the presidency and proceeded to defeat her in the two presidential elections in 2004 and 2009.
If Jokowi wins the presidency later this year, PDI-P will move into government and Megawati will be regarded as an honoured mentor. During the coming months therefore, there seems certain to be intense competition across the political elite in Indonesia to establish good relations with both Jokowi and Megawati.
What is far less certain is what new policies Jokowi will favour as the seventh president of Indonesia. So far, he has managed to avoid commenting on almost all matters of national policy by adopting a 'shucks, why ask me? I'm just the Governor of Jakarta' line in response to any ticklish issues. Thus very little is known about Jokowi's views on such matters as national economic priorities or international affairs.
To the extent Jokowi has favoured any particular national philosophy, he seems to be sympathetic to the 'Marhaenism' (sometimes translated as 'proletarian nationalism') espoused by former president Sukarno. Marhaenism is an eclectic set of ideas which stresses national unity and national culture along with 'pro-people' collectivist economic ideas. It is often unsympathetic to liberalism and sharp individualism, regarding them as undesirable features of capitalism. But quite what the implications might be for economic and international policies under a Jokowi presidency are unclear.
A third implication is that political competition in Indonesia will now move into top gear. Nation-wide legislative elections will be held in just over three weeks on 9 April. A total of over 20,000 seats are at stake at the national, provincial, and district levels. Now that Jokowi has declared, PDI-P candidates across the nation will now be keen to identify themselves with the pro-Jokowi mood sweeping across Indonesia.
The intense political competition will carry on through May and June in the lead-up to the presidential election on 9 July. Unless Jokowi can secure a knock-out election victory on the first round, a run-off election between the top two contenders will be held in early September. Whoever finally wins the presidential election will need to enter into sharp political bargaining in order to put together a cabinet.
Although Jokowi looks unbeatable, he will need all the political skills he can muster in the coming months. As the leading candidate for the presidency he will no longer be able to dodge questions about matters of national policy. Indeed, no sooner did he announce his candidacy than the media began to report criticisms of Jokowi's approach. Amien Rais, a senior and well-known politician from the National Mandate Party, PAN, expressed doubts about Jokowi's candidacy saying that, so far, Jokowi benefited from favourable media treatment and that his star is likely to fade as the campaign goes on.
Photo by Flickr user Eduardo M. C.